Scholars Unite for Senior Capstone Experiences


April is the height of capstone season as students in all disciplines share their senior research and creative projects with their peers and the community.

Joy Sanders discusses her research during the business capstone poster session

Joy Sanders '23 discusses her research during the Department of Business Management's capstone poster presentation on April 17.Students at Washington College all complete a robust work of scholarship in their chosen field before they graduate. It is a defining feature of a Washington education, and every year, seniors in every major share their research and creative works with the community through presentations, poster sessions, performances and publication.

The culmination of months of work, often starting in junior years, senior capstone experiences are much more than a graduation requirement. They prepare students for what they need after graduation, whether it is the ability to conceive and produce work on their own in a job or applying for graduate school, for which capstones can often be used as writing samples.

“It is a rite of passage. This type of research has the function of making them professionals,” said Professor of Spanish and Black Studies Elena Deanda-Camacho, who is also the senior capstone experience celebration coordinator. “They have to be independent as thinkers. They have to be independent as researchers, and then they have to deliver high-quality work in a timely manner. Furthermore, they are assessed by faculty and their peers.”

The Department of Sociology hosted its senior capstone presentations on Monday, April 10. With three students presenting, the classroom in Goldstein Hall was standing room only, with other students, faculty and staff listening to presentations attentively and asking questions afterwards. The students’ self-directed research covered diverse ground: Armani Banks ’23 on evangelical attitudes toward LGBTQ rights, Shannon Salandy ’23 on the relationship between volunteering and stress, and Josephine Robson ’23 on hegemonic masculinity and risk-taking.

Other departments have poster sessions, which allow larger numbers of students to present their work to attendees who move from poster to poster, listening to students and asking them questions. That will be the format for nine Anthropology majors at the end of the month, including Queen Cornish ’23, who studied African-American lifestyle changes in the Chesapeake region through the lens of how they have adapted to the local environment using technical skills such as architectural knowledge and metal smithing, creating “geographies of resistance and places of refuge.”

“Even though you have this plantation environment, people were still building community. There was still Black joy taking place. They used these skills and traditional ecological knowledge to seek freedom,” Cornish said. “I definitely had to reduce the amount of information in my thesis because my professors told me, ‘Queen, you are not writing a dissertation,’ and that’s true, I’m not writing a dissertation. But one day I will, on this topic. This is the precursor to my life’s work.”

Deanda-Camacho said that for many of the students, the topic they choose for their capstones will “be one of the lights that guides their career,” which is one of the reasons she wants to see sophomores and juniors at the capstone presentations. Those students can find ideas, mentors, inspiration and practical information about how to conduct a project and how not to, from seniors. 

The capstone process connects back to some of the core aspects of the College approach to education, according to Deanda-Camacho, such as seeking ways to connect academic work to nature, society, and our creative self.

“One of the pillars of Washington College is that we are also creating great communicators. That’s why we have an emphasis on writing. We want people who can communicate the value of learning and of intellectual inquiry,” she said. “That’s what our intention is: to spark curiosity, to teach inquiry, to assess knowledge, and then to communicate effectively.”

Capstone projects take forms beyond presentations of research projects as well. Visual artists display in an exhibit in the Kohl Gallery opening April 21, and some students in theater and music give performances, such as the staging of a playwriting capstone in which Sophia Rooks ’23 adapted John Gardner’s Grendel.

Performances are obviously a good fit for members of the greater Chestertown community to attend as well, but Deanda-Camacho said she would love for those from outside the College to come to all of the presentations because students are doing a variety of impactful work, in some cases not only researching problems, but also often proposing solutions.

The schedule of this spring’s upcoming capstone presentations is available at, and all are open to the public. Deanda-Camacho wants to see seniors attending each others’ presentations, younger students learning from them, and faculty and staff engaging with the capstone work.

“We are all scholars. Students are junior scholars. Faculty are seasoned scholars,” she said. “We all agree that to acquire knowledge there are certain steps we need to follow. We follow the same ethos. I want everyone to value that, to see themselves as part of that scholarly society, of a learned society.”